Trentino & Alto Adige: Worlds Apart

“There are no other regions in Italy that are as connected and yet different as Trentino and Alto Adige. So much so, in fact, that it is difficult to even conceptualize an article that covers both the heavily-Austrian and German-influenced Alto Adige with the more-Italian (yet not quite) locales of Trentino. This is not only a matter of ancestry, politics and the changing of physical borders; it is also a matter of terroir and the varieties that excel within each of them. Therefore, this is an article of dualities; because even beyond the drastic difference of north to south, we have a dizzying array of linguistic verbiage within Alto Adige alone which makes understanding these wines a bit more difficult - but also, for the geek in us, a lot of fun. As if engrossed in a Tolkienesque fantasy novel, I felt an overwhelming desire to create a glossary or appendix; but instead of Elvish, it would help to dissect the many different meanings of words and letters on labels, translations between Italian and German, or the multiple names that can be associated with a single grape variety. You see, in Alto Adige, producers will often have two names for the winery, one for the Italian wine lovers and the other for German-speaking customers, which is one of the region’s top markets. This may sometimes be a simple change of Cantina to Kellerei, both stated on the front label. Yet many other times, it can be an entirely different name altogether, where one is proudly stated on the front label and the other buried deep within the fine print on the back of the bottle. This can make it difficult to locate a wine in international markets. And so, while tasting, I made sure to continue within the naming conventions used previously on Vinous, but to also make sure that the label of each wine stated that name. THE GREAT DIVIDE So why are Trentino and Alto Adige so different? The fact is that both were under Austrian rule until the end of World War I, after which they were annexed to Italy. However, in the case of Alto Adige, it had been an active part of Austria for hundreds of years prior, while Trentino had its own governing entities. This makes Alto Adige seemingly more German or Austrian than Italian, not just in wine but also in culture and food. Their focus is mainly on Germanic aromatic white varieties, including Riesling, Sylvaner, Müller-Thurgau and Gewürztraminer - with the international influence of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon taking hold in the more recent past. As for Trentino, it was considered part of the Kingdom of Italy during the middle ages, went on to be absorbed by the Holy Roman Empire, and governed by the Princess Bishops of Trento until the early 19th century. It was at this time that it fell to Austrian rule until the Italian occupation during World War I. However, for all of their differences, there are some similarities. One that stands out above all else are the cooperatives that make up the majority of producers in both regions. In Alto Adige, these producers line the wine road, often taking the name of the town or city they call home, such as Eppan, Tramin, Girlan, Kaltern, Kurtatsch and Margreid. These massive operations will source their fruit from hundreds of growers, each one with only a hectare or two of land. In fact, some of the larger wineries are turning out over a million bottles a year (2.5 million in the case of St. Michael Eppan). However, don’t let this deter you, as just like a producer such as Produttori del Barbaresco in Piedmont, many of these cooperatives rank as some of the top wineries in all of Italy. What’s even more exciting is to see the consistency of house style and quality that’s achieved here. Unfortunately, the size and scope of these wineries and the vineyards they farm makes the use of organic or biodynamic principles quite difficult. In many cases, producers will work to be “mostly” sustainable or organic, unless threatened by vine diseases and fungus. However, due to the fractured nature of the region, one farmer who’s practicing organic on their parcel can’t account for what’s being done on the land that surrounds them. Some of the larger houses have had success, such as Alois Lageder, who uses biodynamic practices throughout their fifty-five hectares of estate vineyards, as well as urging the eighty or so growers that fill out the rest of their portfolio to be sustainable or organic. On an even larger scale, Ferrari in the Trento DOC, oversees the use of organic practices across the 500 growers that supply their winery. That said, in many cases, even the most quality-minded producer needs to use drip irrigation in order for their vines to thrive in the poor and well-draining soils that line the higher elevations. However, It’s not all about cooperatives, with many of the biggest standouts from my tastings coming from much smaller producers in the region. Granted, we are talking about productions in the range of 50 to 100-thousand bottles on average, yet the personal touch shines through. These are also the wineries that are more likely to succeed with organic practices, yet not in every case. While their numbers are still small, there is a push to help other growers begin to bottle their own productions. This becomes apparent when speaking with producers such as Nusserhof, Kofererhof, Waldergries and Ignaz Niedrist. You suddenly realize that this small community of artisans all know each other, share knowledge and help whenever they can. As samples arrived, it wasn’t uncommon for one producer to send a just-bottled wine from another producer, who was eager to get that last wine into the lineup. The fact is, some of the most thoughtful people you will ever meet are running not just the small wineries but the large cooperatives as well.” --Eric Guido, Trentino & Alto Adige: Worlds Apart, November 2020 To read Eric’s full report and learn about why the grape matters and what’s coming into the market, check out the full article on Vinous now. Below is a selection of notes from the report.

Cantina Terlan

Vorberg Riserva Terlano Pinot Bianco 2017

Delectable Wine
9.3

The 2017 Pinot Bianco Vorberg Riserva is subtly sweet and perfumed in the glass, as a note of peaches-in-cream fades to yellow apple, raw almond, lemony citrus, stone dust and white flowers. It’s soothing on the palate with its silky textures, yet contrasting tension builds through gentle acids and minerals, creating a ripe yet also savory and almost-salty expression. The finish is long, resonating on ripe orchard fruits with inner florals and a hint of lime zest. (Eric Guido, Vinous, November 2020) — a year ago

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Heinrich Mayr (Nusserhof)

Riserva Südtirol Lagrein 2013

Delectable Wine
9.3

The 2013 Lagrein Riserva is a pleasure to taste, and it’s sure to win a lot of fans. Crushed ripe cherry, sweet spice, hints of white pepper, sage, mint and floral undergrowth all evolve in the glass. It’s cool-toned and juicy, with textures and body that will remind you more of Pinot than Lagrein. Energy builds, as zesty acids enliven its mineral-tinged wild berry fruit, while a subtle tug of gentle tannin resonates. This is a remarkably pretty wine that will win you over for its feminine grace over power. (Eric Guido, Vinous, November 2020) — a year ago

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Tiefenbrunner

Feldmarschall Von Fenner Zu Fennberg Südtirol-Alto Adige Müller-Thurgau 2018

Delectable Wine
9.4

The 2018 Müller-Thurgau Feldmarschall von Fenner from Tiefenbrunner is luminous gold in color with green hues in the glass. Its bouquet is stunning and perfumed with lime citrus-infused yellow flowers, white smoke minerality, wild herbs, green apple and savory exotic spice. There’s a richness to its depths of textural white orchard fruits, perfectly offset by stimulating acidity and a cooling hint of mint leaf, as inner florals amass toward the close. Wow, there’s so much going on here, and yet this is still so youthfully poised. I can imagine that a few years in the cellar will really bring the Feldmarschall to life. (Eric Guido, Vinous, November 2020) — a year ago

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